This “deep” level of boredom differs from the initial, superficial level of boredom experienced when waiting at a bus stop or waiting for a TV show to start, however, this initial immersion in monotony can be instantly dispelled by checking Twitter or Instagram. Or TikTok or Facebook, which means our boredom levels never progress to creativity.
Timothy Hill, a sociologist at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, says: “Deep boredom may seem like a very negative concept, but, in fact, it can be very positive if people are given the opportunity to think and develop undistracted, and we must realize that the epidemic has been a tragic and devastating experience.” It is consumed by thousands of less fortunate people, but we are all familiar with the stories of those who have found new hobbies, careers or directions in life.
Hill and his colleagues examined the lives of 15 people who either took paid leave or were required to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. The ages, occupations and educational backgrounds differed among the participants, who were all from England or the Republic of Ireland.
Participants were structured interviews, where they explained how they spent their time during the pandemic, along with the kinds of feelings they experienced. And while boredom continued to crop up again and again, this was often countered through social media and so-called domscrolling.
And those people who participated in the study who actually suffered from deeper and deeper boredom found that it brought on feelings of anxiety and emptiness. Yet there has also been a renewed push to fill this void: feelings have been rediscovered or rediscovered.
The researchers are keen to stress that not many people have the luxury of sitting and doing nothing for long periods of time – and that social media can be vital in maintaining relationships with family and friends. However, they say there is an important point to make about how social media affects our thinking.
“The problem we noticed was that social media can relieve superficial boredom, but this distraction sucks time and energy, and may prevent people from progressing into a state of deep boredom, where they might discover new feelings,” Hill says.
The idea of superficial boredom and deep boredom goes back nearly 100 years with a series of lectures by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger then suggested that boredom is a very important part of life, and a part that needs development.
Interestingly enough, in the ensuing decades, we’ve designed more and more ways to avoid boredom: Our minds can now be distracted around the clock, thanks to social media and everything else that smartphones, tablets, and computers provide. You never have to stop and lose yourself in thought if you don’t want to.
Other studies have also suggested that boredom and its associated free-mind wandering is a critical basis for creativity, which may be why so many good ideas come to us while we shower.
As Hill says: “This research has given us a window into understanding how a 24/7 culture and devices that promise an abundance of information and entertainment may fix our superficial boredom but actually prevent us from finding more meaningful things, those who engage.” In a digital detox they may be on the right track.”